Q&A: Allstate CMO Mark LaNeve

Allstate recently shook up its advertising approach a bit with the introduction of “Mayhem,” a villain played by actor Dean Winters (Oz, Rescue Me). The campaign from Leo Burnett is meant to augment, not replace, the long-running “Our stand” ads featuring Dennis Haysbert.

Mark LaNeve, who joined Allstate as CMO in 2009 fresh from General Motors, said the campaign was designed to evolve the insurer’s message in the marketplace. In the depths of the recession, price was the main consideration for many. But now that things have improved a bit, consumers are more interested in what they’re getting for their money.
Brandweek: Why change the creative at this point in time?
Mark LaNeve:
We’re not switching campaigns, we’re adding an additional campaign to our arsenal. We are continuing with the Dennis Haysbert work. We will be obviously executing that against our additional “dollar-for-dollar nobody protects you like Allstate” — which is not a tagline but more of an anchor copy line. Obviously we remain with “You’re in good hands” — but much like Geico uses the lizard for one thing and they’ve got the cavemen for another message, we wanted “Mayhem” to do a very specific thing, which is to clearly send a message into the category that not all insurance is the same and you get what you pay for.
How’s the response been so far?
It’s too early to tell. Obviously, we have a lot of in-market measurements. I can tell you the buzz quotient on it has been sensational. We’ve had, last I looked, 60,000-70,000 YouTube views, lots of comments and thumbs up on Facebook. It’s been very disruptive … people have noticed it.
Any parodies yet?
I don’t know of any yet. Not that they couldn’t be out there. But people are writing to me the kind of things we wanted to do with the campaign, like, “I thought based on what I was seeing that insurance was all about price, but you got me wondering if I have the right coverage.” And that’s exactly what we wanted to do.
When the ads initially premiered there were some erroneous reports that Haysbert had been replaced. Did you feel the need to go out into the blogosphere and set the record straight?
That worked itself out. We did feel the need to clarify internally because the current campaign is effective. It is very popular with our agents and Allstate employees. They like the new stuff too, but we communicated in the beginning that it was to be a complementary campaign. It kind of got spun differently in some media circles, but that’s really died down.
So is price less of a factor now with consumers?
If you look at ‘08 and ‘09, when the banking system was melting down and the stock market dropped … people were scared to death and in some cases were fearful of losing their jobs, or actually did lose their jobs. So they were cutting expenses from their household budgets any way they could. And if that meant lowering their coverage, many people were doing that as well. And what we’ve seen is that’s really stabilized. I wouldn’t say the economy is great — unemployment is still high — but the basic fear of what will tomorrow bring, that has subsided.
What’s the biggest challenge for you going from autos to insurance. Is it difficult to market without a physical product?
The first thing I noticed after I’d been here a week or so was hey, there’s no inventory! In the car business, you spend half your time on inventory, what you’re advertising, what you’re incentivizing, so it is a different business model. But the biggest challenge for me is familiarity. I’m about to go to an agent conference. When I walk into the room … I’ll know 10 percent of them. When I met with dealers at GM, I knew 90 percent. But I believe marketing plays a much bigger role in the insurance industry than in the car business, which is so product based.

Todd Wasserman is a freelance writer who was formerly the business editor of Mashable and the editor-in-chief of Adweek’s Brandweek.